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On the Road Again

International student-teaching and study abroad programs mark return

The world is once again a classroom for Bridgewater State University students.

Graduate and undergraduate students recently completed travel courses and student-teaching in Europe, South America and Africa. Their journeys marked the return of both programs after the suspension of in-person international activities due to the pandemic. 

They are among more than 200 programs offered by the Study Abroad Office.

Two returning students recently shared their experiences.

Cultural Lessons

When she becomes a social worker, Cassandra DeMotte, ’24, hopes to serve people from a variety of backgrounds. After spending two weeks experiencing life in Morocco, Cassandra has a better appreciation of those cultural differences.

“It’s so important for students to get out and see the world and experience a totally different way of living,” said Cassandra, a Blackstone resident majoring in social work and minoring in psychology and Spanish. 

Cassandra participated in a summer travel course to Morocco led by Drs. Jabbar Al-Obaidi and Madhu Rao. Eleven students spent two weeks in the African country touring the coastal city of Casablanca and venturing inland to Fes, which is regarded as the country’s cultural capital.

They met with Justice Rachida Hlimi, president of the Tribunal de Commerce Fes; observed preliminary court proceedings; and met the court deputy for the Moroccan king. Students also visited homes and a miles-long market, where they saw dishes, bags, clothing, and other wares being made by hand. 

While traveling, Cassandra researched mental health. She was impressed by the availability of services and how seriously the problem is taken. 

“There’s not a stigma around mental health in Morocco like there is here in the U.S.,” she said. “In Morocco, they’re very open.”

Cassandra hopes to pursue another travel course and a semester-long study abroad experience before graduating. 

Travel courses, she said, build connections with professors and students from different majors.

“We left Logan Airport as strangers,” she said. “We became so close throughout the trip. I would say we are best friends.”

A Dream Fulfilled

Gretchen Sandstrum, ’22, long knew she wanted to student teach abroad. In fact, it’s a major reason she chose to attend Bridgewater State.

Gretchen achieved her dream by working at Colegio Menor, a private international school in Quito, Ecuador. She taught to second graders lessons on currency and long vowel sounds, and used her native English to demonstrate proper pronunciation.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” said Gretchen, who is from Norwood and studied elementary education, special education and Spanish. “It definitely sets you apart from other teacher candidates because it is so unique.”

Eight student teachers traveled abroad in the spring. They learned to think creatively and embrace change, two skills that will be essential in their future careers, special education Professor Robert MacMillan said.

“It’s a life-changing experience for these students,” said Dr. MacMillan, the faculty fellow for international initiatives.

Gretchen, who also student taught in first grade at Kingston Elementary School, forged connections between the Kingston and Quito classes. Students wrote to each other and met via video conference. 

Kingston students created pocket-sized drawings of themselves that Gretchen took with her on Ecuadorean adventures. She sent photos of their journey back to Kingston.

During her eight weeks abroad, Gretchen jumped over the equator, hiked near Quilotoa Lagoon in the Andes Mountains, and met a llama on Pichincha Volcano.

“To be able to immerse yourself into a different culture is incredible,” she said. “Getting to experience different school settings and the way different teachers teach makes you a better teacher.”